The First 100 Days of Fatherhood

100 days ago, I was reading “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley in a waiting room when a nurse came searching for me. I was rushed into a delivery room, and I found my wife lying on a delivery chair ready to give one last push to jettison my son from the ‘mothership.’ I heard the first cry of my son, and I got to see him for the first time. He looked nothing like what I had imagined. I was amused, perplexed, and startled all at the same time. Being a bit of a science geek, I tried to observe as many “adaptations to extrauterine life” as possible. I have to say it was one of the best science field trips I’ve had in my life.

A few seconds after he came out

The birth of my son did not magically change my outlook on life. I did not have a philosophical epiphany nor a spiritual awakening. But the whole experience has been teaching many valuable life lessons. I am documenting them, so that I don’t forget :)

Teacher

The word teacher in Korean,선생 (先生), is a loanword from Chinese, and it literally means “person born before another.” When learning Mandarin Chinese, I was surprised to find out modern Standard Chinese word for teacher is “老師/老师” (Laoshi) not “先生” (Xiansheng). Apparently, the meaning have changed over the years in the mainland China while the original meaning stuck around in Korea and Japan. Since learning about the discrepancy, the word “선생” puzzled me because being born earlier than someone else seemed like a lousy qualification to be a teacher.

As I have been stumbling through the first 100 days of parenting, I am learning that experience could be a valid qualification to be a teacher. Starting with our own parents, they have been immensely helpful from the very beginning of the pregnancy. We are truly grateful for their constant encouragements, supports, and parenting tips that they learned while raising us.

I am thankful for all 선생님 who helped us in his/her professional capacity: doctors, nurses, a neonatal care specialist, a postpartum massage therapist, and a lactation consultant (!!!). I did not even know many of these jobs existed before. I am also thankful for those who advocated wheel chair accessibility and public nursing rooms. I did not know that I would be a beneficiary of their hard work.

Overall, I am amazed by collective wisdoms of parenting that have been curated, distilled, and refined in forms of traditions, scientific research, professional services, legislations, online forums, YouTube videos, and astounding numbers of must have baby items we are required to buy.

The birth of my son has given me a renewed appreciation of human society as I am learning, yet again, how ‘interdependent’ we are. It has motivated me to be the best version of myself, so I can be a good teacher.

Enjoy the moment

I found myself being stressed out about following the ‘collective wisdoms’ to a T: the optimal angle to hold my son, the optimal lighting condition, the optimal room temperature, the optimal flow rate of milk, the optimal sleeping schedule, and the list goes on and on and on and on and on.

At some point, it got really difficult to just enjoy being with my son as my brain was getting overwhelmed. What good is it if I cannot enjoy being with my son because I am too concerned about being with him the ‘right’ way? I am trying to let go of my perfectionism, so I can be just with him.

Sub-optimal burping technique

My son, the second cutest baby of all time.

We all have ‘that friend’ who cannot stop posting pictures of his/her not-so-cute baby. I avowed myself that I would never be ‘that friend’ and that I would never succumb to “my-baby-is-the-cutest” bias.

From scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the ugliest and 10 being the cutest), my son is likely to have a mean cuteness rating of me and my wife. I am somewhere around 1.4, and my wife is, without a doubt, 12 out of 10. My rational self would guess that my son must be slightly cuter than the average with an estimated cuteness rating of 6.7.

But every time I hold my son, I cannot stop thinking that I have done the improbable task of reproducing the cutest baby of all time. I am convinced that “my-baby-is-the-cutest” bias is not a bug, but a feature that ensures survival of human race. Why would I toil through sleep deprivation if I am not convinced that my son’s DNA is worth passing down to the next generation?

I am changing my legal name to “That Friend Kim,” and I happily indulge in a biased, delusional, and deranged belief that my baby is the second cutest baby of all time.

The second cutest baby of all time (?)
Cuteness rating over 9000

The cutest baby is, of course, sons and daughters of whoever reading this.

Apples and Oranges, and I have to pick one.

There is a growing dilemma which country we eventually want to settle down. Child care expenses in Korea are substantially cheaper than that of the US. We paid $230 out of pocket for a vaginal delivery with epidural shots and two nights stay at the hospital. I looked up how much it would have cost in the U.S., and I was shocked.

We hired a neonatal specialist. She cooked, cleaned, and took care of our son from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. for two weeks. Thanks to various subsidies, we paid grand total $50 (not a typo, $50 for two weeks). Maternity leave can be extended up to two years, and my son is eligible for free daycare.

It is getting increasingly more difficult to pick our favorite fruit. We believe that there are so much more to life than maximizing our lifetime savings, but it is very tempting to accumulate a massive amount of cash. The whole experience is nudging us to evaluate what is really important for us as a family.

Grandfathers

Seeing my son being held by his grandfathers evoked a feeling that I never thought I would experience. I miss my grandfathers.

I never met my father’s father. He passed away before I was born. My mother’s dad was a Korean war veteran who struggled to transition to civilian life. He made fighting communism his one and only life mission, and he seemed lost in his McCarthyism paranoia. He passed away two years ago while suffering mild dementia. I know he hated communism, and that is all I know about him. It would have been amazing getting to know what they loved, what they feared, whom they dated before marrying my grandmas, and what it was like to raise our parents.

I hope I can be around for my own grandchildren. I would love to tell them that Santa is fake, but the inflation is real. Christmas gifts are totally overrated, and they should accumulate assets that will increase in value over time.

Haju and his grandpas

There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Raising a newborn does require a lot of space and time, and I assume my son will demand even more as he gets older. My wife and I had to throw out a lot of memorabilia from important moments of our lives. Personally, it was very difficult to throw away textbooks from my undergrad and grad school. Unlike many of my gifted friends, finishing school was not an easy task. I hobbled across the finish line feeling completely exhausted. The textbooks have been THE visual reminder of pain, burden, agony, perseverance, and a triumph. We quickly ran out of space in our apartment when we started hording “astounding numbers of must have baby items,” and I knew I had to say goodbye to my textbooks.

Tossing textbooks is one of the many things we had to do to create extra space and time for our son. We are saying no to a lot things we used to enjoy as a couple. Although we are delighted to pay for “our lunch,” it gets pretty challenging spending most of our waking hours at home with the newborn, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. Behind every instagrammable photo, there are many sleepless nights, copious amounts of caffeine, dirty diapers, and constantly second-guessing ourselves if we are parenting alright. Special shout out to my wife who is sacrificing so much more than I am. I am thankful that I can do this with someone I love and trust.

My son does not seem to be happy in my arms

Music sounds better with you.

When writing this blog, I recognize my writing is tragically limited to express what is like to hold my son in my arms. Before getting married, I asked the Greek guru of Ann Arbor, Dr. Nickolas Vlahopoulus, the meaning and utility of reproduction. He relied with just one word “Biology.”

Perhaps, it is futile to make sense of being a father as many of my innate desires are hardwired through Biology. No combination of words can explain euphoria and sufferings that come with a new life. Nurturing a new life is a destructive creation and a creative destruction all at the same time. It is a wonderful chaos of sleep deprivation, dirty diapers, picking a favorite fruit, inflationary Santa Claus, a very expensive lunch, changing my legal name, 12 out of 10 wife, and the second cutest baby of all time.

I was at loss what analogy, metaphor, or allegory I can use to describe the first 100 days of parenthood. While searching, I randomly listened to Music Sounds Better With You by Stardust.

Ooh baby
I feel right
Music sounds better with you

I don’t know much about being a father, but one thing I know for sure is that music absolutely, positively, and unquestionably sounds better with my son. I hope it remains that way for a long long time.